The work was an example of a courtesy book , dealing with questions of the etiquette and morality of the courtier , and was very influential in 16th-century European court circles. Castiglione was born in Casatico , near Mantua Lombardy into a family of the minor nobility, connected through his mother, Luigia Gonzaga, to the ruling Gonzagas of Mantua.
In , at the age of sixteen, Castiglione was sent to Milan , then under the rule of Duke Ludovico Sforza , to begin his humanistic studies at the school of the renowned teacher of Greek and editor of Homer Demetrios Chalkokondyles Latinized as Demetrius Calcondila , and Georgius Merula. On a diplomatic mission to Rome , Castiglione met Francesco Gonzaga's brother-in-law, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro , Duke of Urbino , husband of Francesco's sister Elizabetta Gonzaga ; and in , a reluctant Francesco allowed Castiglione to leave and take up residence in that court.
The court of Urbino at that time was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy, a cultural center ably directed and managed by the Duchess Elizabetta and her sister-in-law Emilia Pia , whose portraits, along with those of many of their guests, were painted by Raphael , a himself a native of Urbino. The hosts and guests organized intellectual contests, pageants, dances, concerts, recitations, plays, and other cultural activities, producing brilliant literary works.
She was devoted to her husband though his invalid state meant they could never have children. In Castiglione wrote and acted in a pastoral play, his eclogue Tirsi , in which he depicted the court of Urbino allegorically through the figures of three shepherds. The work contains echoes of both ancient and contemporary poetry, recalling Poliziano and Sannazzaro as well as Virgil.
Castiglione wrote about his works and of those of other guests in letters to other princes, maintaining an activity very near to diplomacy, though in a literary form, as in his correspondence with his friend and kinsman, Ludovico da Canossa later Bishop of Bayeux. He and the new Duke, who had been appointed capitano generale commander-in-chief of the Papal States, took part in Pope Julius II 's expedition against Venice , an episode in the Italian Wars.
For this the Duke conferred on Castiglione the title of Count of Novilara, a fortified hill town near Pesaro. There he was friendly with many artists and writers; including Raphael , whom he already knew from Urbino, and who frequently sought his advice. In tribute to their friendship, Raphael painted his famous portrait of Castiglione , now at the Louvre.
In Castiglione was back in Mantua, where he married a very young Ippolita Torelli, descendant of another noble Mantuan family. That Castiglione's love for Ippolita was of a very different nature from his former platonic attachment to Elisabetta Gonzaga is evidenced by the two deeply passionate letters he wrote to her that have survived. Sadly, Ippolita died a mere four years after their marriage, while Castiglione was away in Rome as ambassador for the Duke of Mantua.
In , at the time of the Sack of Rome , Pope Clement VII suspected Castiglione of having harbored a "special friendship" for the Spanish emperor: Castiglione, the pope believed, should have informed the Holy See of Charles V 's intentions, for it was his duty to investigate what Spain was planning against the Eternal City. While in his letter to the pope dated December 10, , he had the audacity to criticize Vatican policies, asserting that its own inconsistencies and vacillations had undermined its stated aim of pursuing a fair agreement with the emperor and had provoked Charles V to attack.
Against all expectations, Castiglione received the pope's apologies and the emperor honored him with the offer of the position of Bishop of Avila. Historians today believe that Castiglione had carried out his ambassadorial duties to Spain in an honorable manner and bore no responsibility for the sack of Rome.
He died of the plague in Toledo in After his death in a monument was erected to him in the sanctuary of Sta Maria delle Grazie, outside of his birthplace of Mantua.
It was designed by the mannerist painter and architect Giulio Romano , a pupil of Raphael, and inscribed with the following words:. Baldassare Castiglione of Mantua, endowed by nature with every gift and the knowledge of many disciplines, learned in Greek and Latin literature, and a poet in the Italian Tuscan language, was given a castle in Pesaro on account of his military prowess, after he had conducted embassies to both great Britain and Rome.
While he was working at the Spanish court on behalf of Clement VII, he drew up the Book of the Courtier for the education of the nobility; and in short, after Emperor Charles V had elected him Bishop of Avila, he died at Toledo, much honored by all the people. He lived fifty years, two months, and a day.
His mother, Luigia Gonzaga, who to her own sorrow outlived her son, placed this memorial to him in The Humanist spirit, with its longing to embrace and fuse the variety and confusion of life, fills that Renaissance conversation—at once so formal and so free, so schooled and spontaneous, so disciplined in design and convivial in movement—with an ardent vision of the one virtue of which human nature is normally capable: that of moral urbanity.
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And it is this virtue which women lend to society. They are the custodians of the social covenant. In the code of the Courtier the Renaissance woman comes into her own and the mission which Isabella [of Este, Marchesa of Mantua, known as the "first lady of the Renaissance"] pursued amid the strenuous turmoil of actual life is realized, in these animated pages, by her passive sister-in-law Elizabetta.
Though she takes no part in the conversation, she presides over it, and her presence permeates its conduct.
The men defer to her, especially in their conduct with women—"with whom we had the freest and commerce, but such was the respect we bore to the will of the Duchess that freedom was the greatest restraint.
In , the year before his death, the book for which Castiglione is most famous, The Book of the Courtier Il Libro del Cortegiano , was published in Venice by the Aldine Press  run by the heirs of Aldus Manutius. The book, in dialog form, is an elegiac portrait of the exemplary court of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro of Urbino during Castiglione's youthful stay there at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
It depicts an elegant philosophical conversation, presided over by Elisabetta Gonzaga , whose husband, Guidobaldo, an invalid, was confined to bed and her sister-in-law Emilia Pia. Castiglione himself does not contribute to the discussion, which is imagined as having occurred while he was away.
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The book is Castiglione's memorial tribute to life at Urbino and to his friendships with the other members of the court, all of whom went on to have important positions and many of whom had died by the time the book was published, giving poignancy to their portrayals. The conversation takes place over a span of four days in the year , while Castiglione was supposedly absent on an embassy to England.
It addresses the topic, proposed by Federigo Fregoso, of what constitutes an ideal Renaissance gentleman. In the Middle Ages , the perfect gentleman had been a chivalrous knight who distinguished himself by his prowess on the battlefield.
Castiglione's book changed that. Now the perfect gentleman had to have a classical education in Greek and Latin letters, as well. The Ciceronian humanist model of the ideal orator whom Cicero called "the honest man" , on which The Courtier is based, prescribes for the orator an active political life of service to country, whether in war or peace. Scholars agree that Castiglione drew heavily from Cicero's celebrated treatise De Officiis "The Duties of a Gentleman" , well known throughout the Middle Ages,  and even more so from his De Oratore , which had been re-discovered in  and which discusses the formation of an ideal orator-citizen.
The genre is also the same in The Courtier and De Oratore : a comfortable, informal, open-ended discussion, in Ciceronian rhetoric called sermo conversation ,  in which the speakers set out the various sides of an argument in a friendly rather than adversarial way, inviting readers, as silent participators, to decide the truth for themselves. Early Italian humanism had been a product of independent city-republics, most notably Florence.
Hans Baron famously called it a " civic humanism ". But when Castiglione wrote, these republics were being replaced by princely courts. To do this he had to win the respect and friendship of his peers and most importantly of a ruler, or prince, i.
He must be a worthy friend, accomplished—in sports, in telling jokes, in fighting, writing poetry, playing music, drawing, and dancing—but not too much. To his moral elegance his personal goodness must be added the spiritual elegance conferred by familiarity with good literature i. Furthermore, he must excel in all he does without apparent effort and make everything look easy and natural. In a famous passage, Castiglione's friend Lodovico da Canossa, whose views arguably represent Castiglione's own, explains "the mysterious source of courtly gracefulness, the quality which makes the courtier seem a natural nobleman":  sprezzatura.
At the outset of the discussion Canossa also insists that the art of being a perfect courtier is something that cannot be taught that is, broken down to a set of rules or precepts , and therefore, he declares rhetorically—and with sprezzatura that he will refuse to teach it.
The implication, however, is that those interested in acquiring this art must do so through practice and imitation, which is—like the dialog itself—a form of teaching—teaching without precepts. To perfect oneself is not selfish, but fulfills a public and private moral duty for the individual to act as a model for others. The ideal courtier, then, must act with noble sprezzatura , and Canossa maintains that because the ideal courtier must be a man of arms, skilled in horsemanship, he needs to be of noble birth.
To this, another interlocutor, a very youthful Gaspare Pallavicino, objects that many outstanding and virtuous men have been of humble origins.
The other participants eventually agree that even someone who is lowly born can be a perfect courtier, since nobility can be learned through imitation of the best models from life and history until it becomes ingrained and natural. This, at least, is the theory; but in practice, they concede, it is easier to become a perfect courtier if one is born into a distinguished family.
In any case, the ideal courtier should be able to speak gracefully and appropriately with people of all stations in life. The French are wrong to assert that a knowledge of letters conflicts with fighting ability.
The courtier should be deeply versed in Greek and Latin and should know enough to be able to discriminate between good and bad writing as well as the other arts for himself, without relying slavishly on the word of others.
The participants also deplore what they consider the rude and uncultivated manners of the French, who they say look down with disdain on what they call a "clerk" or someone who can read and write , though hope is expressed for Francis of Valois , the future king of France. This is a bitter topic, since the French, who had just invaded Italy, had shown themselves clearly superior in fighting to the Italians.
It is noticeable, however, that though skill in fighting is insisted on at the outset as a requisite for the Italian courtier, it is scarcely alluded to in the rest of the book. Pietro Bembo, who was a poet and arbiter of elegance in the Italian language, in fact, even questions whether it is necessary.
Ideally, the courtier should be young, about twenty-seven, at least mentally, though he should give the appearance of being graver and more thoughtful than his years. To this end he should wear subdued rather than bright colors, though in general attire he should follow the prevalent customs of his surroundings.
The courtier should always appear a little more humble than his station requires.
He should take care not appear scornful of the efforts of others and should avoid the arrogance shown by some French and some Spanish noblemen. The discussion also touches on a variety of other questions, such as which form of government is best, a republic or a principality —the Genoese Fregoso brothers taking the republican side, since Genoa had long had a republican government. There is a long discussion, too, about what are appropriate topics for joking pleasantries , an essential component of pleasing conversation: one should not mock people's physical attributes, for example.
Music is brought up, and Ludovico Canossa declares that the courtier should be able to read music and play several instruments. When the young Lomabard nobleman Gaspare Pallavicino objects that music is effeminate, Canossa answers that there is no better way to soothe the soul and raise the spirits than through music, and he names great generals and heroes of antiquity who were keen musicians.
Grave Socrates himself began to learn the cithern when an old man. Indeed, the wisest ancient philosophers taught that the heavens themselves are composed of music and there is a harmony of the spheres. Music likewise promotes habits of harmony and virtue in the individual and should therefore be learned beginning in childhood.
Giuliano de' Medici agrees that for the courtier music is not just an ornament but a necessity, as it is indeed for men and women in all walks of life. The ideal courtier, however, should not give the impression that music is his main occupation in life. They then discuss which is superior, painting or sculpture? The answer is left open but seems to lean in favor of painting, for, as Canossa maintains:.
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Anyone who does not esteem the art of painting seems to me to be quite wrong-headed. For when all is said and done, the very fabric of the universe, which we can contemplate in the vast spaces of heaven, so resplendent with their shooting stars, with the earth at its center, girdled by the seas, varied with mountains, rivers and valleys, and adorned with so many different varieties of trees, lovely flowers and grasses, can be said to be a great and noble painting, composed by Nature and the hand of God.
And, in my opinion, whoever can imitate it deserves the highest praise. Another topic, that of the Court Lady, brings up the question of the equality of the sexes.
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One character, Gaspare Pallavicino, has been depicted throughout the discussion as a thorough-going misogynist at one point he even declares that women are only good for having children. Elisabetta Gonzaga and Emilia Pia regard his attitude as a challenge and call on the others to come to women's defense.
He rises to the occasion, affirming their equality to the male sex in every respect, and he points out how throughout history some women have excelled in philosophy and others have waged war and governed cities, listing the heroines of classical times by name.
Pallavicino, piqued, hints that Giuliano is wrong, but in the end concedes that he himself has been wrong to disparage women. The reader is led to conclude that Pallavicino's bitterness toward the female sex may be the result of a sincere young man's deep disappointment in love, and this throws into question somewhat the sincerity of the smooth and affable Giuliano, the defender or flatterer, as Pallavicino suggests of women.
Giuliano de' Medici was also the person to whom Machiavelli had first planned to address his book The Prince ,  though due to Giuliano's death it was instead dedicated to his nephew, Lorenzo. He died soon after, in , and was memorialized in a celebrated statue by Michelangelo.
The book ends on an elevated note with lengthy speech about love by the humanist scholar Pietro Bembo later a Cardinal.
Bembo was born in and in , when the dialog is supposed to have taken place, would have been in his mid-thirties. Young men's love naturally tends to be sensual, but Bembo talks about a kind of imaginative, non-physical love that is available to young and old alike. Bembo's speech is based on Marsilio Ficino 's influential commentaries on Socrates 's speech on the nature of love at the conclusion of Plato 's Symposium , except that in The Courtier the object of love is heterosexual not homosexual.